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Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility, and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age
with researchers and data professionals, they should develop, support, and implement plans for meeting those needs.
Research institutions and research sponsors have an interest in seeing data used to full advantage. Research data represent a sizable investment of human and financial resources, and preserving those data typically costs less than generating them in the first place. Nevertheless, maintaining high-quality and reliable databases can have significant costs. Because future uses of data are difficult to predict, the return on those costs can be uncertain. In many fields, there still is no consensus as to who should maintain large databases or who should bear the costs.
Depending on the field, data management plans might include incentives for proper data stewardship (including research sponsor policies and conditions for grants and contracts), investments in technological and institutional tools, standardization of interfaces, and the support of data centers. The examples of the Ecological Society of America and ICPSR (Boxes 4-1 and 4-2) show how fields and coalitions of fields can develop policies and capacity for data stewardship over time.
Research institutions, including research libraries, can play leadership roles in the stewardship of research data, both those produced by their own faculties and more broadly. As with the preservation of scholarship in the print era, not every institution will be positioned to develop comprehensive capabilities by itself. Coalitions and partnerships among institutions and between institutions and agencies can accomplish much of this work.
It is important that requirements for improved data management practices not be imposed as unfunded mandates. They need to be integrated into research program funding as an essential component of the conduct of research. Where possible, grant applications should include costs for data stewardship.
The questions of who pays, how much, and for how long are at the heart of the problem of how to ensure long-term stewardship of research data. It has been suggested that only the federal government is positioned to guarantee the preservation of research data, and that a federal data archive or system of archives analogous to the Library of Congress should be established to undertake this mission.
This chapter discusses the variety of federal resources and programs related to research data stewardship that already exist, many of which involve partnerships of various types with research fields and research institutions. Many of them are relatively new. This committee was not in a position to comprehensively evaluate whether the current, largely decentralized, approach is likely to meet the needs of the research enterprise. The relevant communities are actively engaged in addressing these issues, through groups such as the Blue Ribbon Task Force for Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access mentioned earlier.